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Medical conferences and ethics

Medical conferences and ethics

Medical conferences are supposed to fulfill a critically important role in the ongoing education of physicians, technicians, nurses, and other health care providers. There are many functions which these conferences meet apart from merely imparting education: sharpening the skills, ability to interact with peers, trying new equipment, evolving novel and locally relevant ideas, developing consensus in contentious areas all leading to improvement in health-care delivery, and patient outcomes. No doubt, conferences provide a unique convergence of networking, learning, and fun into a single package. A good conference forces you to grow and challenge yourself.  Scientific conferences serve as  catalyzer for intellectual interactions among researchers; they help to come up with solutions to common problems and inspire new leads for scientific inquiry. Do they really serve the intended purpose?

Scam in the academia!

Conferences are too many and not very effective in delivering the purported benefits.  No physician is attending these conferences and going back to their patients or departments and making monumental changes.  Instead, what physicians do; they interact with their colleagues, exchange ideas, and begin to push the next line of reasoning and theories to come up with the latest treatments.  Given the importance of conferences in academia, predatory conference organizers sensed a business opportunity and started scamming researchers a few years ago. They send adulatory emails inviting people to deliver keynote lectures in their “prestigious” international conferences. Unwary researchers fall prey to these seemingly “prestigious” speaking opportunities and pay the high registration fee to attend, as well as the high cost of travel and lodging. These conferences make money through registration fees that are bundled with charges for hotel, meals, program materials, ground transportation and other hidden charges (e.g. sightseeing tours). The enhanced “prestige” that comes from accepting an invitation to chair a session frequently adds an extra amount to the conference registration fee that has to be paid. Researchers who fall for these scams show up at sparsely attended events, and realize that the conference is not at all what they expected and has no prominent speakers from whom they could learn. Worse yet, they realize that the high profile names that seemed to be part of the organizing committee as displayed in the conference website were never there. We fear that alarming rise of predatory journals and conferences will not only undermine science, but also scam academics. Fake — but expensive — conferences help people to become professors, doctors and other professionals without proper training by providing credentials they haven’t really earned. In most conferences the content and scientific discussion take a back seat and the part environment takes precedence.

Types of conferences

There are three types of medical conferences. 1. Organized by Associations and societies of doctors, These conferences are highly political, scientific content is low, speakers are chosen more for their connections than work, have a very large trade exhibition and a larger banquet is more of a circus. A young surgeon back from a conference would certainly not learn to actually perform even one new surgical procedure.  No speaker actually tells the delegates “How I did this!” This is more of a holiday or picnic.  2. Those organized by companies. Here the entire focus is on teaching the delegates how to do a particular surgical or operative procedure using a specific company’s instrumentation or products. This conference is heavily subsidized, workshops are decent. The delegates are chosen by the company, strictly on the basis of the surgeon’s competence to purchase the company products. Wine and dine. Five-star comforts. But the delegate returns having learnt how to do a procedure. The type of presentations here are “See how brilliant this company’s knee instrumentation is? And see how beautiful the implant design is! So what if it costs 1.5 L for the patient, use a 100 of these and we sponsor a USA trip for you. 3.The third type of workshop/conference is where a few dedicated crazy guys get together and decide to actually teach. Here no commerce is involved. No company sponsors events. No trade stalls. It is entirely learning and teaching. The costs are barely covered by delegate fees, and many a time organizers cover the shortfall from their pockets. The type of presentations is “this is how you do it. I will guide you step by step, and remain beside you.” The level of use to surgeon: 80 to 100%.

What should be done?

In a normal conference one day it is all theory, the other day all practical.  It is advised to have two sessions each day. Each session of four hours will have two hours of lectures and videos, followed by two hours of workshops. After the lectures, the delegates will immediately try their hands on, under the guidance of one or two individual workshop mentors per table. It is suggested to dispense with the inauguration, felicitations, and other ceremonial things like the lighting of the lamp. This will ensure that each delegate gets an adequate hands-on experience of the procedure. A dedicated social group of all delegates will be taking regular opinions of the participants, and use the constant feedback course correction protocol. Substantial course material shall be shared with each delegate well in advance.

While the objectives of the conferences may be well intentioned and noble, but at the implementation stage, it falls short. It is all a festive jamboree of eat, wine and tour at the conference while large number of patients at home, are denied care, when the doctor is partying away at their expense. Some mechanism must be devised so that the patients are not left in the lurch while their regular doctor is away. This will be ethical if doctors really come back better equipped to treat their patients.


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